Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu Marc Israel Sellem/POOL

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declined to meet with representatives of non-Orthodox religious movements in the US during his trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, a decision apparently made in response to criticism by Reform and Conservative movement leaders of the shelving of a plan to enlarge the mixed-gender prayer space at the Robinson's Arch and create one entrance to all prayer areas at the holy site.

A delegation of American Jewish leaders not affiliated with either the Reform or Conservative movements will be meeting with Netanyahu Tuesday.

According to a report by Army Radio, the Prime Minister explained to journalists that the decision to freeze the Western Wall plan was made after it became clear that the Reform Movement was attempting to use the holy site as a means for achieving de facto state recognition. Netanyahu pointed to a clause in the Western Wall compromise plan which provides for logistical coordination with the Reform Movement, which he said could be construed as recognition – a violation of the status quo on religion and state.

The Reform and Conservative movements, which combined represent only several thousand members in the State of Israel, less than 3% of the Jewish population, have long lobbied for state recognition and funding, as well as authority to perform state-recognized conversions and marriages in Israel. The mixed gender space set aside for those who wish to pray that way has sat largely empty since its construction four years ago, while the raucous Women of the Wall continue to provoke thousands of traditional worshipers and disrupt prayers in the separate gender main plaza each month.

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